How to make good choices

The modern world presents us with constant minor decisions to be made  from choosing one TV channel out of about 200, ordering a coffee (latte, cappuccino, Americano, whole milk, skimmed, soya, decaff, extra shot, syrups, extra hot, wet, etc) or a tea (English breakfast, Earl or Lady Grey, chamomile, peppermint, fruit or builder’s) to the number of options when buying a train ticket as well as the more traditional major ones:  to buy or to rent, whether to take that new job or stay where they know you, which car to buy, who to spend the rest of your life with (or whether to spend the rest of your life with them).

We’re bombarded and many of us feel overwhelmed. It’s not that the decisions are particularly tricky it’s more the sheer volume and the pressure to decide right there and then. When you’ve had a tough day at work, making frequent decisions, even simple choices, like what to have for dinner seem challenging.

Deliberating over every minor decision – coffee or tea, brown or white, eat in or take away, could be wasting energy. Try asking yourself: “How important is this decision and how much time does it deserve?”

When it’s an important decision, the first choice you need to make is to actually deal with it; stalling doesn’t make the decision making process any easier.

Make sure you give the problem due consideration rather than deciding on the spur of the moment. Remember, these decisions you make today can result in consequences that may impact on the rest of your life. You owe it to yourself to listen to both your head and your heart. Set yourself a deadline for collecting all the information and making the decision.

That doesn’t mean you should spend hours, days or weeks agonising over it, writing long lists of pros and cons, asking the world and his wife for their opinions. I’ve read research that shows that spending less time consciously thinking about a problem and allowing our unconscious minds to work on it can pay dividends. I’ve certainly applied this to certain work related tasks; when I’m designing training I find it helps to spend some time actively thinking about it and then “forget” about it for a while. I give myself a deadline and frequently, quite well-formed ideas have popped into my head before the deadline.

Our minds can only consciously process a limited amount of information at a time and this makes it difficult to weigh up several factors at once. But our unconscious capacity to process information is almost unlimited which gives rise to the suggestion that unconscious thought is far more effective than logical, rational, conscious reasoning. You won’t necessarily know why you’ve reached a decision but chances are it’ll be the right one for you.

Other people will try to rush you for a decision or try to make your decisions for you but you’re the one who’ll have to live with the consequences so be firm about how much time you need.

You can probably eliminate the obvious “non-options” quite quickly, leaving your brain fewer options and ideas to mull over.

If all else fails and you’re left with a choice between two seemingly equal options, toss a coin and notice how you react to the result. Disappointed? Chances are you were favouring the other option all along.

When things don’t go according to plan, remember that you made the best choice on the information that was available at the time.  Indulging in too much hindsight can be bad for the soul.

Written by Debbie Stone, Associate Partner at Brilliant Minds

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